We, South Sudanese netizens (citizens on the net), have read and watched President Salva Kiir’s interview with Deutche Welle (DW) with dismay, especially the blatant accusation that Social Media is responsible for the mass displacement of the people of South Sudan to refuge in Uganda.
“The people who ran to Uganda were chased away by social media. There was no fighting in that area. They were told to leave because they know a UN official came in to assess the humanitarian situation to decide if there was need for assistance. Instead, he went and reported that there was a looming genocide in South Sudan, which has not happened up to now. People were called from their houses and told to run away, that if you don’t go after one hour you would be a dead person,” said President Kiir to Adrian Kriesch (DW). http://www.dw.com/en/south-sudan-president-salva-kiir-downplays-refugee-crisis/a-40209980
In the first place, this unfortunate utterance from Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit came on the second anniversary of our fallen comrade in the media, Peter Julius Moi, who was a member of AFTABOSS Internet’ional (Association of Facebookers, Tweeters and Bloggers of South Sudan). The late Moi was gunned down by the so-called ‘unknown gunmen’ barely three days after President Kiir made similar inciting accusations against the journalists of South Sudan while on his way to Addis Ababa for the signing of the peace agreement (ARCISS) on 16 August 2015.
“I was wondering how did the information got to them? But this is what I said here, now the people who are getting out, the media…And when you close them down, they go and complain that there is no expression, no freedom, and then. The freedom of press does not mean you work against your country (applause). And if anybody among them does not know that this country has killed people, we WILL demonstrate it one day on them (applause).” Video Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNGA8I20Bw
For this and other reasons, we, at AFTABOSS in particular and Social Media in general, condemn the president’s baseless claims and affirm that we will keep fighting back unless he restraints his dangerous words. Having gone through the trauma of surviving state-sponsored persecution or unfair prosecutions from the days of the killing of Isaiah Abraham to the present day, we are raising this alarm to President Kiir and the world over in case any other citizen or netizen falls to such reckless claims.
The use of ‘Social Media’ to cover up structural failures, ending up vilifying citizens on the platform, is unacceptable. This week, for example, it was claimed that James Gatdet Dak, former Spokesmen of Dr. Riek Machar, is being secretly arraigned in court one year after he was forcefully deported from Kenya on such flimsy claims of having set off the fighting at the Presidential Palace (J1) in Juba with a Facebook post from in Nairobi. Social Media has become the main scapegoat for deliberate blunders by the Government of Salva Kiir and opposition groups in South Sudan.
Our fears are compounded by the fact that it is a tradition in Gen. Salva Kiir’s leadership dating back to his bush war times that whoever he accuses does not have peace and safety thereafter. Upon getting the interview from Deutsche Welle yesterday, many social media members expressed fears of such ominous precedent by the president. “Guys, let’s say something. This man does not miss a target after such slurring in our name,” warned our Aftaboss member on Facebook. Kiir’s video: https://www.facebook.com/groups/413209488738387/
This trend has been observed with the individuals, groups of politicians, organizations or communities that had fallen out with Gen. Salva. Once he points a finger of such unfounded blames at anybody, his men point in that direction the barrel of a gun as seen with Peter Moi, Isaiah Abraham, and other victims of the system, including political leaders.
there are facts and factors to our concerns. According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Foreign Correspondents Association (East Africa), 20 foreign journalists have been sent away in South Sudan. Another 15 of the local ones have been either arrested or harassed by the security operatives in the first half of 2017 alone as from the report of South Sudan Union of Journalists. From our own assessment, a higher number of South Sudanese journalists have fled to exile. The rest are under intense government or self censorship in the country. This is not the nation our fathers or we fought for! What is the essence of independence if all the ills of the old Sudan regimes are being replayed to our detriment by the so-called liberators of the new Republic of South Sudan?
Therefore, we would like to put this straight in record. Though we recognize the fact that the Social Media, which is the only voice of the people that the regime has tried but failed to crack down, is a contributor to the escalation of the violence through hate speech and fake news, we dispute the president’s claim pushing his responsibilities to a nonentity in the war that started from his own palace in December 2013 and July 2016, respectively.
It should be noted that the Tiger Battalion and any other auxiliary forces attached to the Presidency are not commanded by anybody on Facebook, Twitter or blog of the South Sudanese media socialites. In case the president is not well briefed by his ‘Eyes and Ears’ from J1 about the facts of their wars of power struggle, we have two more instances to enlighten the Presidency, besides numerous reports by African Union, United Nations, and other bodies on the cause and the course of the conflict.
“In July 2016, the peace deal fell apart. Machar and Kiir’s forces, both stationed in the capital Juba, fought each other for days, before Machar fled the city with his men, eventually escaping to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Equatoria militia who had joined him broke off to raise rebellion, engulfing the region in violence.
In Yei and Lainya, areas to the southwest of Juba, Dinka troops slaughtered Equatorian inhabitants in their attempts to subdue the rebels. At the same time, Equatoria militia killed Dinka civilians living in the region. Hundreds of thousands of refugees poured into Uganda and Congo, creating the largest human exodus in Africa since Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide. By the end of 2016, the United Nations said ethnic cleansing was underway and warned of genocide.”
In the same report piled and published by IRIN and also published by The East African newspaper under the title, ‘The War in Equatoria: A Rare Look Inside South Sudan’s Spreading Conflict’ ( July 22 – 28, 2017), this important fact of collective responsibility between the warring parties was captured:
“Sometimes the IO do a small attack on the government, then run away,” said one refugee in Uganda. “The soldiers can’t find the IO, but they find the civilians, and they are the ones to suffer.” And this is evidenced in this pastor’s account from Kajo-Keji diocese. “That was very terrifying to the people of Kajo-Keji,” said Murye, who oversaw the burial of those killed at Mondikolok. “They are saying six people were killed, and now you start to fear: Who will be the seventh? Whose child, whose parent will be killed? Kajo-Keji quickly emptied. Even Murye left, piling furniture, books, and files into trucks and relocating his entire diocese to Uganda.”
To conclude, indeed, news as such, is what the so-called Social Media share from the authorities of the belligerent parties. On July 7 this year, for example, the following media statement came out of the Presidency in Juba, and was published on Facebook by the official spokesperson of the SPLA-IO in the Government of National Unity (TGoNU):
“Civilians in and around Maiwut and Pagak are asked to evacuate due to the peaceful advancement of the peace forces of the SPLA-IO under the leadership of Gen. Taban Deng Gai.”
Indeed, as ordered, the civilians fled their villages and towns upon the advancement of the so-called ‘Peace Force’ (SPLA-IO in Government). as shown in the picture below. Therefore, the president should be informed that the only social media that displaces thousands (now millions) of South Sudanese populace is the one commanded from his own palace. In other words, it is the government, not social media, that chased away the people to IDP or refugee camps inside or outside of the country.
With keen observation, we hereby repeatedly bring it to the attention of the president and the public that the villagers around Maiwut, Pagak, Kajo-Keji, Pibor, etc. are not on Facebook, and do not, for that matter, take orders from the online community. The community only reports or analyze the outcome of the warring parties’ activities, which is their constitutional mandate as free citizens of South Sudan. The IDPs, refugees or other uprooted citizens only evacuate upon the entry of the ‘peace forces’ or any other gun-wielding forces to their villages and towns. And this fact is in their testimonies.
Frankly speaking, no social media forces entered houses and flashed the women and children out to Uganda, Kenya or Ethiopia as the President claims in that German media interview. We hereby strongly reject that claim and ask the president and other leaders of South Sudan factions to put the lives of their people before their personal or group interests.
The Bible warns: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” (Prov. 18:21). Especially such unjustified utterances from a person in authority can bring about innocent bloodletting. We can attest with fervour and without fear or favour that the current conflict, described as ‘Senseless War’ by its own authors, was sparked off with a hate speech during the SPLM National Convention in the 14th and 15th evenings of December 2013 in Juba. May H.E. President Salva Kiir Mayardit therefore withdraw his claims lest they are taken up and implemented by his trigger-happy ‘securicorats’ on innocent journalists or citizens as usual!
AFTABOSS Internet’ional: (Association of Facebookers, Tweeters and Bloggers of South Sudan) was founded in 2012 to guard the netizens and guide the citizens of South Sudan and other members on their rights to freedom of expression and association, and bring South Sudanese online community together to spot and support their latent talents for the betterment of their nascent nation.
Click to join our group on: https://www.facebook.com/groups/413209488738387/
Jon Pen de Ngong, Chief Moderator,
AFTABOSS Internet’ional, Nairobi, Kenya.